Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sant Quirze de Colera monastery

We decided to go for a drive this afternoon to the ruins of the old Benedictine monastery of Sant Quirze de  Colera. This drive brought us into the Serra De L'Albera, last foothills of the Pyrenees before they plunge into the Mediterranean. We passed through the vineyards and olive groves of Vilamaniscle, and then through a more wooded landscape with low scrub, cork oak and beech trees, less of the pine trees we have seen elsewhere. The road was paved and smooth enough right up until it crossed a little stream and became a short gravel track that brought us onto the monastery grounds.

The monastery was built in the ninth century and enlarged over the years. It was renovated in the 1990s after the town of Rabos acquired it from the family who had owned it since the 1830s. We had missed that day's visiting hours but were able to wander around admiring this impressive structure from the outside. We could smell clover and soon heard the buzzing of bees who had built hives in holes high on the monastery walls. I'm sure that this is a place to find some really good clover honey.

The monastery is situated in the eastern section of Albera national park; another, larger section lies just to the west closer to La Jonquera. In addition to its many other features, this end of the park is a preserve for the Hermann's tortoise, endangered in this area. Alas we didn't see any tortoises as they are all sleeping beneath the ground at this time of the year.

Try to picture the ancient monastery, in a beautiful valley with wooded hills rising behind it. What could improve this experience except perhaps a nice restaurant, and there it was!  Occupying what must once have been one of the monastery's outbuildings, the coral (restaurant) was bustling with local families out for a leisurely Saturday lunch. Catalans are very civilized about their eating: lunch is served after 1 and can go on all afternoon. The house speciality was grilled meats: lamb, beef, chicken and many kinds of sausage. After we made our selections the server was good enough to return and explain with a mix of French and mime that Seamus' selection was a sausage made primarily from parts of the pig's face, an experience he decided to save for another day. Importantly, every meal included lovely frites and we were also delighted to order vin de casa for only 2.70E for a small pitcher. We finished off our meal with our usual cortado, before making our way home, feeling very pleased with ourselves.

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